If you have children, you know how hard they can be to entertain. In particular without physical activity. Especially in a quiet way. For more than ten hours in flight. So what did I do during our recent trip that involved a ten-hour-plus flight from China to Sweden?
I have written before about flying with toddlers and flying with infants, about keeping infants entertained during the flight, about flying with sick kids, and about our experiences from this trip. It was more than ten kours in a very comfortable Airbus.
The Toddler Flying Difference
Flying with toddlers is very different from flying with infants. While most infants either are as snug as a bug in a rug and stay happy as long as they are strapped onto their mothers, some scream their hearts out from the discomfort associated with flying, whether stomach pain or ear pain or both.
Infants do not require much entertainment either. When they are old enough to start doing things by themselves, a biting ring or a pair of plastic keys can keep them entertained for hours.
But a toddler has higher requirements. They need something more advanced.
Passive vs Active Entertainment
Every toddler is different, but most will be hypnotized by television. Or rather childrens programmes. The problem with the infinite availability of shows on YouTube is that children watching it get spoiled by the amount of choice. They get used to being able to click to get something else when there is the slightest slow stretch.
There is no way an in-flight entertainment system can offer that variety. Nor can any tablet you could carry. It might make sense to habituate your kids to a series with a lot of shows you could download and that would last your kids for some time, if you have a tablet that can handle it. Or teach them to play games. Or find an alternative way of keeping them entertained.
in-Flight Boring System
On the flight from Beijing, the kids were quiet mostly thanks to the entertainment system. It was unusually hard to navigate, and the selection was a little less than standard. And heavy biased towards Chinese programming, which was to be expected since we flew Air China. And we got decent headphones. I actually had bought headphones for the kids, so I called ahead to Air China customer service and tried to ask what kind of connectors they had on their headphones (they were two-pronged, but the customer service representative had no idea about that). It did not say on their website either. But at least she was able to tell me that both flights were arriving and leaving from the same terminal. It took her more than three times the time it took me to give you that information, because she insisted that she needed our booking number (and when she got it, she could not open the booking because it was done through Expedia, not through their website).
When They Are Not Asleep
There was a second reason my kids were so quiet during the flight, and I am not talking about the in-flight meals (definitely not on Air China, anyway). That was low-tech enough: pen and paper.
I found the perfect activity for my children: Coloring books with letters. In Japan, everyone from schoolchildren to retirees use templates where you write the Chinese characters that Japanese use to write words (or actually concepts). You have to write the characters with the strokes in the right order and direction. Perfect for children trying to learn to read and write.
Any kind of coloring book will work, of course. Coloring is more difficult than free-hand drawing, and it will keep your kids occupied for longer. You can create your own themed coloring book that shows things from the trip you will be going on (or are returning from). It requires quite a bit of work, so if you want to buy one and let me make it, tell me in the form below.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Tokyo to Sendai, previously of Bangkong and Honolulu. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning seven - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.